Principal's Corner Past Issues
Principal's Corner Fall 2015
Principal's Corner May 2015
Principal's Corner Fall 2014
The eighth year of Portland Village School got off to a very good start, thanks in large part to the collective efforts of teachers, students, parents, and guardians. The vast majority of students arrived on time each day ready to start classes, and punctuality is a critical aspect of having a successful day at school. New students have been welcomed by returning students and I observed a number of deliberate efforts by returning PVS students to include newcomers during snack time, lunch time, and recess. The 2014-15 school year is also special because it represents the first year of having dual sections in every grade, Kindergarten through eighth. At the traditional Rose Ceremony on the first day of school it was a pleasure to have two eighth grade classes escorting two first grade classes throughout the assembly.
Summer Professional Development and PVS as a Learning Community
Nearly all of the teachers at PVS took part in summer professional development opportunities. Many attended training at the Rudolf Steiner College in California. Some traveled to other parts of the country to pursue Waldorf training; Mindy Lee Hill went to Colorado, and Jessi Herbert went to Antioch College in New Hampshire, where she completed her multi-year program to earn formal Waldorf Certification. In addition to supporting Waldorf based professional development, an equally high priority is supporting teachers to renew their licensure requirements, and a number of them successfully completed coursework and examinations to do so in June-August.
An ongoing feature of PVS as a continuous learning community, and place of professional growth for teachers and support staff alike, is our relationship with schools of education at local universities, including our support of field experiences for aspiring teachers, and student teaching opportunities. We have well established relationships with both the University of Portland, and Concordia University, and are mentoring 11 field experience students, and student teachers this Fall. We have also started to connect with the School of Education at Lewis and Clark College, whose director plans to bring a cohort of student-teaching candidates to visit PVS in the Fall, with the goal of having some Spring placements. Teachers at PVS are committed to mentoring and supporting student teachers, and providing authentic learning and development opportunities. These relationships are two way streets, and also benefit our teachers, in terms of reflecting on, and discussing their work in the classroom.
Student Achievement in 2013-14
All PVS families this past year should have received the end of year PVS Progress Reports from each teacher, along with written narratives. These reports were mailed out in late June. Teachers spend considerable time and effort to make the internal assessment reports meaningful to parents, and these documents form the basis of the discussions that are held at Parent- Teacher Conferences in November and March each year. Parents are encouraged to keep these documents together, and use them to measure progress over time, as well as areas of strength, and skills needing improvement. The faculty at PVS has been discussing the practice of writing narratives at the end of the school year, particularly the timing of such information (at the end of the year). This year, a few teachers will make up a pilot group who plan to write the narrative portion of student reports during the first two trimesters (November and March), and then send the final PVS Progress Report in June. The purpose of this project is to give parents (and students) more information about what a student knows and is able to do, areas to improve, and recommendations for how to improve, when there is still time in the school year to apply the information and make progress. During the course of this year there will be more information about this pilot project generally, and more specifically to the class parents of teachers taking part in the project.
In addition to the internal assessments, PVS students in grades 3-8 take part annually in the external state tests, which are requirement for our public charter with PPS. This past year the results showed significant gains for our students in Math, and they continued to perform well in Reading/Language Arts, and Science. The State Department of Education rates schools on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest rating, and 1 the lowest. PVS had an overall rating of ‘4’ in 2013-14, which is the same rating as 2012-13. It is worth noting however that in the additional categories of ‘Academic Growth’, our rating was Level 5 in 2013-14 compared to Level 4 in 2012-13, and in ‘Subgroup Growth’, PVS earned a Level 4 rating in 2013-14, compared to Level 3 in 2012-13. In general what this data indicates is that the improvements made by PVS students this past year on the state tests included most of our students across the board, and not just one particular group. We continue to strive to ensure that all PVS students experience academic progress every year. 2013-14 marks the end of the state tests known as OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), and 2014-15 brings the first year of tests known as the ‘Smarter, Balanced, Consortium’, which students in many different states will take. The Smarter-Balanced tests are designed around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which have been adopted by over 40 states, including Oregon. Students will be tested in Reading, Writing, Listening, Research, and Thinking skills in April-May 2015. There will be more information about the PVS Curriculum, Waldorf Education, Common Core State Standards, and the new external assessments, at the Curriculum Evenings, October 23 and January 22.
The Language Program at PVS
When PVS started eight years ago, Spanish was offered as an additional language of study. Three years ago Chinese was introduced, and over the past three years different configurations were tried to have students experience both languages. For example, there were block rotations where students did Spanish for a few weeks, then Chinese, then Spanish again, and so on. That arrangement was challenging for students as well as teachers. Last year we devoted one half of the year to each language, and that also proved difficult. This year students will continue to have a language class twice a week, the same as previous years. However, Grades 1-4 will have Chinese all year, and Grades 5-8 will have Spanish all year. For those students in each division who also want to study theother language, we are offering both Spanish and Chinese as an After School Activity once a week. Thus, we are still trying to make it possible for students to study two languages this year, while we devote time and thought to the structure of our language program going forward. How many languages should be offered, or required, how often, what grades, and the desired learning outcomes, are all considerations we will take into account. We have started to research how language classes are offered at other public, Waldorf inspired schools, as well as private Waldorf schools. We will also solicit input from parents and students about their priorities for the language program. Now that PVS is fully grown, and become a dual tracked K-8 school, we need to be vigilant in reviewing how we carve up the days and weeks for student learning. Assuming we will not lengthen the school day, a decision to dedicate more time to one subject area will mean reducing time in another. Articulating a clear purpose, and designing a language program to achieve it, are our overarching goals for the future.
Special Education Services at PVS
All special education services at PVS are provided by personnel assigned by Portland Public Schools, they are not PVS employees. This year we have one full time special education teacher (Courtney Wilson), who is at school every day. In addition, we have three part time personnel, including a speech pathologist (Craig Dermer), and school psychologist (David Dugo), each, one day a week, and an occupational therapist assigned to PVS for eight hours for the year. Presently, about 10% of PVS students receive special education services, either in the form of ‘push in’ or ‘pull out’, depending on the location of service (main classroom or learning center classroom). When students need to be evaluated for special education services, they are placed in a line, and typically the evaluation requires time with the special education teacher, speech pathologist, and educational psychologist. In addition to administering tests, the same personnel are providing services to students according to their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) which are also reviewed, and amended periodically, according to student needs.
Saturday Work Parties in 2014-15 October 18 & December 6
This year we plan to have Saturday Work Parties on four occasions, and hope that we can garner volunteer support by announcing them well in advance, and highlighting a priority activity. At every work party there will always be desks and chairs to repair, along with other routine maintenance tasks that we do every year. There will be two work parties before Winter Break, and two after. The first will take place on Saturday October 18, at which time we will paint the classroom doors in the Lower School building. The second work party will happen on Saturday December 6. Work parties take place between 9am-12 noon, and lunch is provided afterwards. Please consider volunteering at one work party this year.
The faculty and staff have worked hard to prepare for a successful school year, and look forward to the continued support of parents and family members. Our top priorities are the heads, hearts, and hands of our 420+ students, and their success in school is much more likely when adults share core values and work together on their behalf.
Paul Berg, Principal
Principal's Corner Summer 2014
While the 2013-2014 school year has officially concluded, a good deal of work is already underway at PVS to get ready for 2014-2015. Reflecting back on one year ago at this same juncture, there were still hiring decisions pending, planning permission being sought for a major room renovation, and a good deal of unfinished business. Thanks to the good work of many people, we are much further along with our strategic developments.
Faculty Professional Development
The vast majority of PVS teachers are taking part in Waldorf training programs in various locations. Fourteen teachers, including the two new main class teachers, are attending training at Rudolf Steiner College, in Sacramento CA. In addition, six teachers are doing Waldorf training at other locations, including New Hampshire, Colorado, and Oregon. Five teachers are also involved in coursework to renew their teaching licenses, and most are doing work in the area of Equity and Diversity Studies. These continuing education experiences align closely to our strategic development priorities of underwriting teachers’ ongoing Waldorf Education training, as well as supporting them to renew their state licensure.
Considerable transitions have already occurred enabling the main class teachers to occupy their new classrooms for next year. Grades K-4 will be in the Lower School building, while grades 5-8 will be on the main floor of the Upper School. The basement classrooms, and open space will once again be used for Music, Handwork Folk Dance, and Movement/Games classes. Last summer priority for painting and carpet cleaning was given to the Upper School, and this summer, the focus is going toward the Lower School. The newest classroom is already taking shape, as the contractor completed his work this week, and the next steps are painting and carpeting. In fact, plans call for the entire Lower School hallway to be cleaned up and painted.
Preliminary OAKS Results
PVS students in grades 3-8 are required by the district to take the annual state tests in Reading/Language Arts, and Math, and in addition, students in 5thand 8th Grades take a test in Science. Our students continued to do well in Reading/Language Arts, and Science, and this year we are pleased to report that in grades 4-8 the results in math showed significant improvements from last year. In each of the grades the percentage of students who met or exceeded state benchmarks showed increases ranging from 11% to 45%. There was a concerted effort this year to support our 8thgraders in math. Last year, as 7th graders, 33% met or exceeded benchmarks in math. This year, 78% of them did so. Overall, improvements in math achievement also occurred in all of the sub-group categories, including ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged. Teachers across all grades deserve a lot of credit for such gains in student achievement in math. This year marks the final year of OAKS tests (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge & Skills), and next year will begin the external assessments around the Common Core State Standards, called The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The faculty will share more information about Common Core Standards at our annual Curriculum Evenings in October and January. (See the previous Principal’s Corner Spring 2014 for more information on the Common Core State Standards and the Waldorf Inspired Curriculum)
We realize there are many barometers of student achievement and progress in school, and external tests are only one such indicator. Nonetheless, we are proud of the progress our students made this year, and continue to remain vigilant in our drive to ensure the gains are experienced by all PVS students, particularly those in traditionally underserved groups. The faculty and staff at PVS remain highly committed to applying lenses of racial equity and diversity to all of our strategic developments. We are also committed to a curriculum, and school, that promotes the development of our students’ hands and hearts, as well as their heads.
There were many highlights during the past school year, including considerable work accomplished with the help of highly capable parent volunteers. The Parent Handbook was revised and upgraded. The Weekly News combined timely news with pictures of students, staff, and parents alike, engaged in a wide range of activities. The Woven Newsletter and the Yearbook were also volunteer led publications of the highest quality that were enjoyed by the entire PVS community.
Sincere thanks are also due to all the parent volunteers who participated in supporting classroom activities, regular excursions such as park walks and day field trips, as well as the overnight class trips to chaperone such events as the 3rd Grade Farm trip, 4th Grade Potlatch, 5th Grade Olympiad, 6th Grade Opal Creek, 7th Grade Marine Science Center, and 8th Grade End of Year Trip to the Oregon Coast. Another PVS tradition that recently occurred was the 8th Grade Promotion Evening, followed by the Promotion Reception hosted by the 7th Grade parents and students. The seasonal festivals, including the Harvest Fest, Lantern Walk, Spiral Walk, Lunar New Year, and May Day, along with the annual Craft Fair, all benefitted from hard working, positive volunteers, and widespread community support. This past year there was an increased effort to collaboratively plan and publicize school events, and update the calendar, between the PVS Events Committee, the PVPA, and the school administration. The PVPA hosted morning coffee socials on the first Friday of each month, and the administration sponsored Saturday work parties the first Saturday of each month from January through June. There were school wide Parent Information Evenings focusing on a range of topics, including PVS Curriculum, OAKS Tests, School Finances, Classroom Spaces, and The Black Portlanders’ Project. In June, PVS was notified by the Fire Up Your Feet Organization, that our Bike and Walk to School efforts in May resulted in a first place finish, and an award of $2,000, which will be dedicated to our Movement and Games Classes, for equipment purchases this summer. Thanks to our dedicated parent volunteers who spearheaded this campaign at school, and led by example.
The end of June also marks the conclusion of the fiscal year for PVS, and our Business Manager, Kary Aloveah, as well as the Board Treasurer, Travis Neumeyer, have done an excellent job of preparing documents for our annual external audit, which has already started, and will conclude in July. In addition to our annual audit, PVS also sends quarterly financial reports to Portland Public Schools. The PVS Finance Committee, which holds monthly, public meetings, also benefits from a core of long serving parent volunteers, who keep track of a lot of details regarding school revenues, expenditures, and annual budgets. As far as fundraising was concerned, this past year resulted in less revenue than planned, but the Fall and Spring events still managed to promote a strong sense of community and commitment going forward. The strategic growth of the school’s enrollment will peak in the near future with the realization of two sections of each grade (K-8) in 2014-2015. This means that fundraising from external sources will become increasingly important. The PVS Fundraising Committee welcomes interested volunteers to take part in their monthly meetings, and strategic plans in the year ahead. Watch the PVS Website and Weekly Digest for opportunities to get involved in PVS fundraising efforts.
The seventh year of PVS brought about many positive developments, and nearly all were accomplished through the combined efforts of school personnel and parent volunteers. To apply the ideas of Rudolf Steiner regarding seven year cycles in human development to a developing organization, PVS has established a positive foundation upon which all later structures can be built. The school is clearly establishing its own identity, or mission, as a result of its potential coming to terms with its environment, bringing about transformational change. It is well positioned to begin its second seven year cycle.
The school will be open on a part time basis during the month of July. If you need something please call ahead or email to check with either Ms. Cloud (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Ms. Castillo (email@example.com), to make sure one of them is available. The school will resume being open on a daily basis (Monday-Friday) in August.
Have a safe and enjoyable summer.
Paul Berg, Principal
Principal's Corner Spring 2014
Since school resumed after the Winter Break in January, there have been many noteworthy school events, and significant strategic developments. In January, we held our second Curriculum Evening, which included an open Q & A segment about OAKS testing and Waldorf education. As part of the Portland Village School Board’s strategic development goal of implementing a Levels of Engagement Model, parents were invited to evening forums in February on such matters as facility decisions and room use, and PVS Finances. Also in February, the PVS faculty, along with board members, and the co-chairs of the PVPA, all took part in a two day in-service training focusing on race in education. Engaging in this work with a collection of PVS constituent groups was a positive experience for everyone, and a model we hope to build on. In March, we offered a new schedule for Parent-Teacher Conferences, designed to cater to a wide range of busy, working families, and were pleased with the high rate of parent participation. Also in March we held our second annual Alumni Evening, presented by current 9th graders in metro area high schools. PVS also held the third annual 8th Grade Project Evening. All PVS 8th Graders are required to complete an annual research project, on a topic of personal interest, as well as engage in dedicated hours of a related community service project. Their oral presentations on the night were very well done, and reflected positively on the entire class and school. It was good to see parents of younger PVS students at the 8th Grade presentations. Other established traditions such as class plays, field trips, and assemblies have been going well, along with new events this year, such as the Middle School Electives program, and the Sustainability Club, which is beginning to lead PVS through the stages of becoming a certified Oregon Green School. In May, students in grades 3-8 will take the required state tests, called OAKS (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills), and students new to this experience will have opportunities to practice and become familiar with the tools and process.
Waldorf Education and the Common Core State Standards
During the two curriculum evenings this year, parents learned about the ongoing efforts of the faculty to align and synthesize two essential components of our school’s curriculum, Waldorf education and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In making any comparison between them it is important to note the fundamental differences in values and goals between these two educational approaches. The CCSS are precisely defined knowledge, skills, or understandings that are classified by subject area and grade levels. They started from the end point of compulsory education (12th Grade Graduation), and back mapped what students should know or be able to do each successive year in school, Kindergarten, through high school. Waldorf education diverges radically from the CCSS view of education in three significant areas. First, although Waldorf education includes the mastery of Common Core academic skills and knowledge needed for career or college success, this set of cognitive academic attainments is part of much more comprehensive educational goal that explicitly includes, and fosters the emotional, physical, and social development of each student, or the head, heart, and hands approach. Waldorf education insists that adequate time must be allocated for a range of activities that allow the growing child to explore multiple aspects of the human condition. Activities that foster character development, healthy physical growth, social consciousness, relationships, imagination and creativity, environmental awareness, and the capacity to make informed decisions and to act on them responsibly.
This breadth of purpose of Waldorf education leads to a second difference with CCSS, with regard to when and how a desired final outcome should occur. Waldorf education believes learning is developed in stages. Students must be given ample time to encounter the world through play and socialization initially, and then experience a spiraling curriculum through the grades, including the main lessons, which are thematic integrated blocks teaching multiple standards in combination. With regard to time in education, Waldorf and CCSS may differ in precisely when a subject or learning activity is introduced, and how much time is allocated for student learning activities, however there is considerable alignment between Waldorf and CCSS as far as grade level expectations. It is also true that in some instances, concepts or subjects are introduced later in Waldorf education than in CCSS. As the PVS faculty constructs our schoolwide curriculum map, we are indicating where such time differences exist between Waldorf and CCSS, and will make this information clear to our families at future curriculum nights and parent class meetings. The Waldorf educator asserts, when instructional time is spent on activities that are developmentally appropriate, and learner compatible, then mastery is more likely to occur, along with student empowerment and enjoyment. Take the example of reading and language arts. The Waldorf approach emphasizes longer pre-reading strategies, more story telling, and form drawing, thus, reading and writing later than CCSS expects. Accordingly, it has been the case that PVS students’ performance in the early grades (3rd & 4th) on the external state assessments in reading and language arts has not been as strong as their counterparts in neighborhood public schools. However, the unequivocal trend over the past three years, is that our students’ reading and language arts achievement in grades 5-8, is stronger than the PPS average, and equally important, most PVS students truly enjoy engaging in reading and writing activities.
Finally, a third key difference between Waldorf education and CCSS relates to the questions of educational purposes, practices, results, and accountability. The implication of CCSS is that the standards should be the same according to grade level for all students, and their performance should be measured annually and summatively through external assessments. A phrase commonly heard around annual external state assessments is high stakes testing, as there is considerable publicity around how students perform overall, and subsequently, how schools are rated. Waldorf education agrees with the principle of accountability for student growth, including academically, but also believes that progress is just as important in the areas of social, emotional, and physical development. In Waldorf education there are guidelines for achievement at each stage of human development, which are less rigid than annual grade level, timed, standard-based outcomes. At PVS, where teachers loop with their students in grades 1-4 and 5-8, teachers are responsible for assessing and articulating student progress over an extended period of time, and they utilize a wide range of internal formative assessments in the process. They convey such progress during Parent-Teacher Conferences twice a year, and through the PVS Progress Reports three times a year. The charter that PVS has with Portland Public Schools stipulates that we will administer the annual state tests to our students in grades 3-8, and the overall results are just one measure used by the district to assess PVS students alongside their counterparts in neighborhood PPS schools, and other charter schools. As a faculty we understand this expectation and welcome our unique opportunity in public education, to successfully merge Waldorf and CCSS. This opportunity is a central topic of discussion and collaboration when teachers and administrators convene from the other public, charter, Waldorf inspired schools in Oregon, and has been a catalyst for the formation of our five school network.
Staff Hiring and Professional Development
As we begin the final months of the school year, there are active searches underway for three teaching positions, and one assistant position (5th Grade, 6th Grade, Music, and Handwork Assistant). The 5th Grade position is a new one, as this was our last year with only one section of 8th Grade. Next year, we will have two 8th Grade Teachers looping back to 5th Grade. The 6th Grade position became open when Ms. Mohn-Johnsen (5th Grade) left PVS in March for personal reasons, to move back to the Midwest where she had grown up. The PVS faculty of 2013-2014 remains largely intact for next year. The goal is to have the new hires on board in time to attend Waldorf education training at Rudolf Steiner College in California, along with the vast majority of returning PVS teachers. As the search committee reviews paper applications to narrow down the field of finalists to invite for interviews, there are a number of qualifications they look for in the candidates. Nearly all full time public school teachers are required to hold Highly Qualified Teacher status (HQT), which in most cases is earned through college degrees and state licensure. Another route to HQT status is through successfully passing national, subject matter tests. All main class teachers at PVS must have HQT status, and according to our charter with PPS, more than half of our teachers, every year, must hold a current Oregon Teaching License. Other qualifications sought in PVS candidates include experience, or training, in Waldorf education. Above all, we want candidates who are interested in, and committed to working in a Waldorf inspired, public, charter school. They must be willing to pursue continuous professional development, which in many cases means dedicating time to Waldorf training, as well as coursework to renew state licensure. PVS has a Professional Development Committee which is currently meeting to allocate the funds available for teachers’ continuous learning. The highest priorities of the committee are to support teachers in Waldorf training, and coursework to renew state licensure. Once again, this summer, nearly all PVS teachers will experience targeted Waldorf training in June or July, and some are also taking graduate coursework to renew their licenses.
Finally, a special thanks to all the parent volunteers who continue to play a pivotal role in positive school developments. From the Saturday work parties, to the weekly park walks, class rep duties, Weekly News Digest, Woven Newsletter, food for staff meetings, chaperoning field trips, and everything else. We are very grateful for your efforts to support the students and teachers, and our entire school community.